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The 2AD Official Weather Station: 1965-1997

From July 1st 1965 the weather officially came to 2AD. The Bureau of Meteorology weather station, which had been located at the rear of the Armidale Post Office since 1857, needed a new home because of buildings encroaching on its location compromising readings.

The back yard of 2AD was chosen as it was reasonably open to the elements, it was only about 100 metres away from the post office location, and radio station staff could take the readings.

The weather station consisted of a large white painted louvred wooden box called a Stevenson Screen mounted about one metre above the ground, containing four thermometers. A rain gauge was set in the ground nearby, and a wind vane mounted on the roof of the building. In the earlier years of operation a barometer was also included, and this was attached to the wall of the kitchen at the rear of the building.

The Bureau required seven observations daily at three hourly intervals from 3am to 9pm. With the exception of the 3am observation, these were carried out by radio announcers while doing their on-air shifts. During office hours one of the office staff took the readings, and the 3am observation was contracted out to the local police who called in to make the readings during their early morning patrol.

The observations included taking readings of temperatures, rainfall, pressure, wind direction and speed, and an estimate of the amount and type of cloud. The readings were filled into a book, then coded into a series of five digit numbers, and finally phoned through to the Bureau as a telegram.

Copy of 2AD Weather Book 21st March 1972 – page 1

Copy of 2AD Weather Book 21st March 1972 – page 1

In the 1980s the observations were sent by telex, which was slightly faster than the telegram method, and finally in the 1990s the coded numbers were simply keyed into a small calculator-like electronic box called a Weather Observer’s Terminal or “WOT”. This was connected to a phone line, and the Bureau’s computer simply called up the WOT at a designated time to download the data.

Every three hours in rain, hail or shine the readings had to be taken. This sometimes involved getting wet, and if it had hailed or snowed, ice in the funnel of the rain gauge had to be melted with hot water - all fun stuff for the poor announcer trying to do an air shift at the same time! In winter the breakfast announcer often had to contend with freezing temperatures while taking the 6am readings.

On July 15th 1970 the coldest ever temperature of -9.3 degrees celsius was measured in a frozen Stevenson screen. At the other end of the scale the hottest day at the 2AD weather station was December 19th 1990 during a New England heat wave when the temperature reached a sizzling 36.5 degrees.

Every announcer at the radio station had to be trained in taking weather observations. Some were quite horrified to learn that during their weekend or evening air shifts they had to leave their warm studio and venture outside in the cold, while playing a long record, to take temperature and rainfall readings, however after a few weeks practice, most had it down to a fine art, and could complete the whole procedure in about ten minutes.

The barometer was withdrawn in the early 1970s, the reason given that it was producing incorrect readings because of Armidale’s high elevation. The original large Stevenson screen from the post office was replaced on January 16th 1980 by a smaller model.

On September 1st 1972 the change-over was made from measuring temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit to the new metric measure of Celsius. This involved four new thermometers replacing the older ones, and 2AD attempting to familiarise the listeners with metric temperatures by using dual figures on air for a few weeks prior to the conversion date. It was over a year later on January 1st 1974 that rainfall made the metric change from points and inches to millimetres.

The 3am observation was dropped from the roster in the mid 1970s. It’s interesting to note that for a short period in July 1965, an announcer was rostered on weekday evening from 7.30 pm to record the 3am observation. For the other two daily readings another announcer did the readings for an additional five pound per week ($10).  This arrangement didn’t last very long and was replaced by the Armidale Police being rostered to come to the station and record the 3am observation. The 9pm observation was cancelled on September 16th 1993 when 2AD stopped roasting announcers for the evening shift and instead took a radio programme off a satellite feed from 7pm. 
During the time the weather station was located at 2AD, it was the only official weather station in Armidale, therefore the vital daily readings of temperatures and rainfall appearing on evening television weather reports and newspapers all came from 2AD and the efforts of its staff. The major advantage, of course, of having the official weather station at 2AD meant that the announcers had instant access to official readings at any time of the day or night, rather than having to ring the local Bureau station for temperatures and rainfall.

In the 1980s and 1990s some concern was expressed to the Bureau of Meteorology that the development of the area around 2AD including new brick buildings and bitumen carparks was affecting temperature readings. The Bureau kept a regular check on the site, allowing the weather station to continue subject to no further major encroachments on the site.

Finally in April 1997, when it was decided to build a carport and cement car park in 2AD’s back yard, the writing was on the wall for the weather station, and a new location was found for it about a kilometre away at the site of the University of New England’s weather station in East Armidale. The move was made on June 18th 1997 bringing to an end an interesting 32 year era of the official weather at 2AD.